Readying The Earthworks

Ah, March. The time of year when you wake up to steel-gray skies, bare branches, and a 50-degree, drizzly day and say, “It’s a great day for gardening!”

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Well, okay, it’s not a great day for gardening, per se, as much as it’s a great day for garden readying. We’re still a few weeks out from doing the actual planting part of things, but our seedlings are motoring right along, so it’s time to start getting their future home ready for them. The garden beds were winterized with thick layers of straw, so this was what we were starting with:

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We’re not sure who or what was making those circular holes in the straw (the latest theory is mourning doves), but at least we’re reasonably confident we didn’t have as many squirrels burying shit in the beds this year as last. We’re hopeful that without an autumn spent loading the beds up with acorns, the squirrels will be less inclined to dig up the beds in the Spring. It’s not likely to play out that way, but what can I say? We’re hopeless optimists.

We pulled the straw off the dirt, praising ourselves for saving this task for today instead of doing it yesterday, because a long night of steady, frigid rain really made the straw nice to handle. It’s always surprising to see how low the soil level is after a summer of crop harvesting and then a winter of weathering. In a month or so, our nearby nursery will be selling leaf compost by the cubic yard, so we’ll be able to fill the other beds with that, but for the early-planting beds, we can’t buy in bulk. Instead, we’re making our own enriched-soil mix.

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We ended up with two parts “garden soil”, one part Bovung (or dehydrated cow manure. “Bovung” is, like, our favorite brand name for anything ever), and one part leaf compost. (Yes, we do have our own compost bin, but we hardly have enough usable compost in it to be able to fill one of our big garden beds.) After much lugging and dumping and raking, the bed looks super-lush and inviting for young onion plants.

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Matsui supervised the whole process from the front door.

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Of course, we’re still expecting at least one more hard frost, and while raised beds allow for earlier planting because the soil warms faster than in-ground beds, we’re still planning to get the soil that much warmer for our precious baby plants by putting a cold frame over it. We’ve never used a cold frame before, so it’s going to be interesting to see how this all works.

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This is a super lightweight, collapsable, one-piece, crazy simple structure that folds into a little tote bag and springs from that state with just a flick of the wrist to its full splendor. Our plan is to warm the soil with it, then maybe do some hardening of the flats of seedlings, then actually plant the seedlings in their final growing spot with the cold frame over them, so we can get a little jump on the growing season. It’s such an easy structure to move around that it shouldn’t be at all difficult to take it off when the onions are ready to go out into the world on their own.

This is what the inside of our onions’ house looks like:

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If I was an onion, I’d want to live there.

It felt wonderful to be working in the garden again. Last summer was a bit of a lost season for us, as we only half-heartedly planned any crops (thanks to the kitchen being in mid-remodel), and then neglected the condition of the garden because we were in a holding pattern waiting for the fence and pea gravel installation. The whole thing was overgrown with weeds and unmown grass, and the only crops that grew at all were potatoes and the world’s most unstoppable catnip patch. But now the kitchen is ready for all the bumper crops we can throw at it, and the garden is fenced and has nice paths. It’s ready to not be a headache anymore. And after a chilly morning of dirt-hauling, it looks, from the front door, like it means business.

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Filed under 3. March, Garden

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